NEWS & EVENTS
Six Days on the Field
Strolling through the Fitzwilliam Village Cemetery is always a fascinating and relaxing pastime. It can also be intensely educational -- provided you look behind the words and dates, and glean some of the information of the venerable community members interred there.
One of the more interesting of these is William Dunton, who was born in Fitzwilliam on May 24, 1824 to Abel Dunton and Ruth A. Phillips. Dunton, a man of considerable fortitude and energy, was one of the first residents of the town to enlist when the Civil War broke out. Joining the 2nd Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers, he saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run, and was involved in numerous battles throughout Virginia, from Williamsburg to Harrison’s Landing, from1861 to 1862.
Dunton’s greatest trial came on August 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run. In the midst of the fighting, he was struck by a ball on the right cheek, which went straight through his face, destroying the bones and the teeth of his right upper jaw, before exiting just below the jaw on his left cheek.
Believing him dead, Dunton’s comrades left him on the field, to the tender mercies of the Confederate Army. Discovering the man, the troops stripped him of all of his belongings and most of his clothing.
But Dunton was still alive, and conscious. Finding that his mouth and throat were filling up with the swelling from the wound, he grabbed his knife and cut away as much of the torn flesh as he could. In that way, at least, he could breathe.
It was in this deplorable condition that he lay on the field for the next six days and nights. On the morning of the seventh day, a party of Union soldiers, assigned to bury the dead, came upon him, and determined that, though he was still alive, the chances his surviving the journey to the hospital were remote. Nonetheless, they dressed his wounds, and transferred him to Washington, D.C. There, five of the surgeons attending him decided that there was no way that the man could be saved. They decided to treat him anyway, and inserted a small tube into his throat, whereby they could introduce a small quantity of brandy, which revived him. Dunton remained in this condition for more than a month, after which time he was released, and returned to his home town.
One would think that these terrible trepidations would have significantly shortened Dunton’s life span. Actually, he continued to live for a considerably long time thereafter, and resumed farming.
As a matter of fact, he married late in life. The New Hampshire Sentinel reported on January 30, 1889, as follows:
“On Sunday, William Dunton was married to Mrs. (Mary A. Richardson) Hayden. We wish them more joy than the very stormy day portended for them.”
The next year, it was reported that Dunton was thrown from a load of hay and was severely lamed and bruised, but was able to sit up of his own accord.
Dunton told pretty much everyone who would listen of his incredible ordeal, and finally passed away on Halloween of 1901, leaving a legacy of incredible resilience in the face of disaster.